I’m not going to convince you that you should probably take public transport in major cities (you should). Instead, I’m going to talk about how to make public transit work for you. Especially in new cities, here are 8 tips for making it easier (on both you and the locals).

I grew up in a place where there were buses and light rail, but life really revolved around car culture. But since I was 18, I have lived in places where mass transit rules. Even when I’ve had a car, mass transit has impact my life. So here are my tips, from a kind-of-local.

New York Subway

New York Subway

  1. Before you trip, decide if you want to try mass transit. Research the parking options and costs and compare them to the public transit system. Chances are, public transit will win.
  2. Decide if you’re going buy trip by trip, or buy a pass. Generally, if you’re going to use public transit more than 2-3 days, it will pay off to buy a pass of some kind. Most major cities offer 24-hour, up to 7-day passes.
  3. Escalators. The rule- around the world, but particularly in the US, if you’re going to stand still, stand on the right side. People walk (often very quickly) down the left side. Think of sidewalks and escalators like roads. Slower on the right, fast on the left.
  4. Let people exit before entering any subway cars or buses. Don’t stand right in front of the doors! Allow people to exit before trying to enter. This is just common sense and politeness people.
  5. If you’re lost, ask. There’s nothing sadder than someone who advises people completely incorrectly and refuses to ask for help. Just ask for directions.
  6. If you need to stop to gather your party or consult a map, please step to the side. I don’t know how many times I have almost completely knocked people over during my commute because they abruptly stopped right in front of me. If you need a minute, it’s ok, just step out of the flow of traffic.
  7. Don’t be afraid. I have taken public transit by myself since I was 15. I have taken mass transit in major world cities and in places where I didn’t know the language at all. It’s good to be aware of where you are, and how far you are from your destination. But sometimes there’s a rumor of “spectre” that public transit is hard or scary. It’s not. It’s how most people in big cities get around.
  8. Think of it like an adventure. If you normally drive everywhere, then mass/public transit is an adventure! I once accidentally got on an express train in New York City and ended up in Harlem (I was 17). Ooops. You can get off, and get on the train going the other way- it’s ok. Delays and mistakes happen- fix it and move on. You’ll get a taste of how people actually live and get around the city that you’re visiting.

I hope if you’ve been debating taking public transit when you’re traveling in the US, that you’ll give it a try. If you take public transit every day, what other tips do you have?

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